Is there anyone who would disagree that sound, environmentally friendly behaviour is an absolute necessity – not only for companies, but also for each and every individual? I’d say, probably not. However, putting it into practise usually takes a lot of hard effort. Let’s think about ourselves: only few people manage to rigorously separate waste, never use plastic bags and save as much water as possible. So how does the adidas Group try to improve its environmental friendliness? What do we do to implement meaningful and sustainable changes into this complex beast which we call our supply chain?
Commitment in every product
In general we try to improve our environmental footprint by embedding our commitment in all our products, processes and services.
Here is an example: Looking back to the London 2012 Olympic Games, most adidas branded products contained for sustainable innovations, from on-field competition wear through to clothes and equipment for volunteers and the public. You might have seen for example Astrid Lang and Stefan Tamm’s post about the development of “Primeknit”, a technology which knits a shoe’s entire upper in just one piece. This means lightweight comfort that wraps seamlessly around your foot, whilst fewer materials produce less waste.
However, sustainability starts far earlier than with products. At adidas we are convinced that it’s necessary to continuously review the entire value chain where our products are designed, created, manufactured, transported and sold.
One of the latest examples for how we do so is the introduction of adidas DryDye. In short, the technology makes it possible to eliminate the need for water in the dying process and it uses 50% less energy and 50% fewer chemicals.
The environmental audit process
But besides improving products and processes an equally important factor is to enable factories to better understand the environmental impacts arising from their operations and to improve processes. In order to find the weak points, the environmental audit process was designed.
This auditing process is carried out on a regular basis. In 2011, a total of 208 supplier facilities were covered. Just recently, the adidas Group’s Environmental Services team travelled to Turkey to enrol adidas’ Environmental Audit programme at supplier factories.
The basis from which we conduct assessments of suppliers is our Environmental Assessment Tool and supplementary remediation guidelines. This tool looks at various factors, such as health and safety of workers, emissions (e.g. air, noise and water), the usage of sustainable resources and the supplier’s manufacturing profile. Our auditing team is, for example, interviewing staff on-site and checking the facilities while going through the audit checklist and reviewing relevant records, general documentation, maps and plans. Every audit is followed by a detailed auditor report, including any non-conformances and observations that have been found, based on which the factory can develop its own corrective action plans. After all, we want to give them the support to understand themselves why some things should be done differently instead of just dictating to them what needs to be changed.
The audits themselves, and their preparation, can be quite laborious for both the auditor and the suppliers. You might think that these efforts are an unpopular exercise for some suppliers. However, it is great to see that the audited suppliers all gave the impression that they know about the value of sound environmental management and that they appreciate the possibility to look into their efforts in this field with external support – one sustainability manager even thanked us for being audited. They try to turn their environmental commitment into a competitive advantage and hope that buyers will reward this in the constant pressure for low prices.
Heading into the right direction
Also, we have to say that the efforts of the visited factories are quite advanced: they have an environmental management system in place and have been certified according to ISOThe International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is the world’s largest developer of voluntary International Standards. International Standards give state-of-the-art specifications for products, services and good practice, helping to make industry more efficient and effective. Developed through global consensus, they help to break down barriers to international trade. 14001, or are currently preparing to do so. They have dedicated staff, policies and processes in place to minimise their environmental impact.
This provides us and the audited suppliers with a good position to go forward. However, there is always room for improvement. The optimisation recommendations identified during our audits in Turkey included, amongst other things, the renewal of environmental permissions, a stronger focus on encouraging staff to use personal protective equipment and the need for educational refreshers regarding chemical and diesel storage. We will now work with the suppliers on defining specific action steps and will monitor the process closely.
All in all, we are very happy that the audits showed we are on the right track …